Concerts

On the Rise of Bluegrass in Popular Music

"'Bluegrass is going to be big this year' is what I heard when I started playing around 1964, and every year after that for 20 years!" John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recalls. And while "big" remains a relative term, he notes there has been an upward trend. "Every year since, it has expanded, grown, and increased audience a few percentage points."

One of the earliest threads of Americana and one rooted in more rustic realms, bluegrass has in fact seen a consistent surge in popularity, thanks to artists who have taken the music's traditional trappings and moved them toward the mainstream. It's clearly not your father's bluegrass anymore.

McEuen should know. He witnessed that rise first hand during his tenure with the Dirt Band. Some might consider him a purist, not because he eschews modern methods -- far from it -- but rather because as a loyal bluegrass devotee, he helped spur its spread early on. "If one were to graph Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and Jimmy Martin from their inception, a continual climb up would be seen, albeit not one so rapid," he explains. "But it has never gone away to 'resurge, as many contend. It has instead seen a long and steady growth."

See also: Steve Martin on the Banjo's Popularity, Martin Short, and the Loss of Robin Williams

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Lee Zimmerman